Last summer, before entering my first year of university, I was introduced to the shocking costs associated with university and also the tremendous opportunity to offset those costs wtih scholarships and awards.
Determined to accumulate as little student debt as possible, I opted not to borrow from OSAP and in favour of “free money.”
Many students fear the time commitment necessary for “free money” and think it will be a waste of time if they don’t receive scholarships.
While meeting scholarship criteria (e.g., extracurricular, volunteer and community involvement), I made three times more money in one summer of a scholarship hunt than I did in three years of working part-time at a local restaurant.
What did I gain while scholarship hunting?
Money – While meeting scholarship criteria (e.g. extracurricular, volunteer and community involvement), I made three times more money in one summer of a scholarship hunt than I did in three years of working part-time at a local restaurant.
Networking – The more places you volunteer, the more people you meet. The people at these organizations are extremely helpful when you are searching for paid employment because they are often very connected to the community.
Resume building – It’s no secret volunteering shows potential employers you have ambition and a wide range of skills. Volunteer work is important for my resume, considering that my paid employment (i.e. working at a restaurant) provides me with very limited skills or experience. However, my volunteer work demonstrates things like computer and event planning skills.
Relevant experience – Right now, I have very few options for paid employment, but I have been able to choose volunteer positions related to my field of study. This will be the type of experience that sets me apart from other candidates in a job interview a few years from now.
Where is all of this “free money?”
Websites like StudentAwards.com and ScholarshipsCanada.com can be helpful for finding and organizing suitable scholarship opportunities, but remember thousands of students are registered on those websites and your objective (just as with job hunting) is to reduce competition. The following tips will help you limit the amount of competition:
Start at your university’s Financial Aid office – You are not automatically considered for all scholarships through your school, so look into the ones that require an application. This limits your search first by your school or geographic area and then by your discipline, the year you are entering, etc.
Look locally – This search might involve the keyword of your city, but it could also include the names of local organizations or businesses.
Your or your parents’ employers – Chances are that if you or your parents work for a well-established company then there is financial aid available to you (even if you are over the age of eighteen but still in school).
Clubs or organizations with which you volunteer – There are often scholarships or awards for dedicated members or volunteers.
Limit by gender, ethnicity, background, etc. – As a woman, I am fortunate to limit my competition for some scholarships by half, and I received three scholarships from a women’s club. Some awards are so specific they go unclaimed. For instance, one of my teachers was the first applicant in nine years to receive a particular scholarship because the criteria required the applicant to be female immigrant to Canada from Greece, as well as of a particular religion and school of study.
Other helpful hints
Apply! – Remember, (financially) all you can honestly say you have to lose is the cost of postage. Compare this to the hours of work you have spent on academics, volunteering, extracurricular activities, etc. and you’re crazy not to apply!
Small dollar scholarships are worth your time –Many people don’t take the time to apply for $100 here or $500 there (especially when there are so many large scholarships available). This means that your odds are better. An hour spent filling in an application could amount to a few hundred dollars. Compare that to minimum wage!
Do your research – Read the application carefully and adjust your answers accordingly. For example, if a criterion is leadership then focus on leadership roles you have had rather than bombard the committee with your other experiences.
In addition, search past winners in newspaper articles, online university bulletins online, etc., taking note of their strengths and types of involvement. I sometimes keep local newspaper clippings of scholarship recipients so that I know what made a candidate successful and what time of year I should inquire about the award.
Furthermore, research (or speculate on) the adjudicating committee, finding clues as to what they value (e.g. tradition versus innovation, local versus international volunteerism, academics versus community involvement).